How digital students are giving Sheffield its new USP

Hands up if your school days were like this?

By Lucy Ashton
Monday, 05 August, 2019, 13:48
Feature on students from Sheffield UTC who are going onto digital careers. Isaac Parker. Picture Scott Merrylees

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll have had run of the mill GCSE options, the odd careers night in the school hall and work experience was probably a fortnight in an office.

Many people stayed in the same profession for their whole life but times, and the economy, have drastically changed. Councillors are now focusing on what skills are needed for the future and while Sheffield will always be proud to be the City of Steel, we have a new USP.

Welcome to the world of digital where students are excelling in media, art, photography, filmmaking and journalism. And work experience is a three-month internship in Hong Kong.

Feature on students from Sheffield UTC who are going onto digital careers. Jean-Batiste Clary-Niemi-Junkola.Picture Scott Merrylees

At the University Technical College in Sheffield city centre – one of two in the city – students are taught vocational skills alongside maths, English and science.

The college has links to the city’s two universities and works closely with top industry names including Boeing and Radio 5 Live. Students here are just as likely to build a car as read Shakespeare.

The government-funded technical school for 13 to 19-year-olds, rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, equips the next generation with the technical skills employers need, in sectors where there are skills shortages.

Students can join the UTC in Year 9 at the age of 13 or in Year 12 at the age of 16. It’s not an option for kids who just don’t like school – students need to be passionate and during the last academic year there was a 100 per cent pass rate at Level 3.

Feature on students from Sheffield UTC who are going onto digital careers.Art teacher Mark Coalwood. Picture Scott Merrylees

The campus is split between the creative and digital media departments and the engineering and advanced manufacturing departments but all students have high quality technical coursework along with traditional academic qualifications.

Art teacher Mark Coalwood says education has radically changed, with the most marked shift evident in apprenticeships.

“I used to teach at an upper school and there is still a traditional education here but there are so many more options.

“Sheffield is the only place with two UTCs and we work closely with the universities and post 16 tutors often ask the universities to talk about careers.

Feature on students from Sheffield UTC who are going onto digital careers. Madeline Dyson. Picture Scott Merrylees

“But there isn’t a university bias as we have just as many connections to apprenticeships.

“There are thousands up for grabs and some of the apprenticeships are absolutely amazing.

“The old YTS schemes were low paid and there were no career prospects but some apprenticeships have a starting salary of £20,000 with a company car and with others you are paid to do a degree.

“Apprenticeship and university routes are different but there’s a phenomenal range of options out there.”

Jean-Batiste Clary-Niemi-Junkola, 18, did his GCSEs at secondary school before moving to the UTC.

He said: “I was always creative and I wanted to move away from academic subjects and had heard good things about UTC.

“My two-year course covers creative design media, magazines and filming. I want to go into the game industry doing digital characters and I’m going to Sheffield Hallam University to study game art.”

Madeline Dyson, 17, is hoping to study PR and journalism at Sheffield Hallam University.

“I’ve been here since Y10, I came at 14 to do my GCSEs and A levels. I don’t think I would have got the grades at my old school because I enjoy coming here so much more and I get the help I need.”

For Issac Parker, 18, it was a passion for film which led him to the UTC. “I came after doing my GCSEs as I didn’t want to do A levels but I really liked creative subjects and wanted to go into film.

“There were some sixth forms which did film but I had to do them with other subjects I didn’t have any interest in.

“I’m studying creative design media, photography and graphic design and I have an internship in January in Hong Kong at a magazine publisher for up to three months.”

Sheffield’s is one of the country’s more successful UTCs. Elsewhere in the country, some University Technical Colleges have struggled, with several forced to close. The most recent to shut was in Wigan; parents were told the school was ‘financially unviable’ and that student numbers had been insufficient.

Sheffield – a city on the move

It’s the classic tagline from the 1970s but politicians are well aware of the changing industries in the UK and that Sheffield needs to help its future generations find careers.

Coun Abtisam Mohamed, cabinet member for education, says children are never too young to learn digital skills.

“We need to do more to ensure all schools have coding classes at a much earlier age and have it rolled out across the city,” she said.

“We need to work with children much earlier on. Libraries are doing coding clubs but how do young people know about what is available in their local area?

“We need to introduce this into schools to allow all young people to take part in it. We need to help children at a much earlier age, long before they attend UTC.

“We still have quite a few primary schools under the local authority’s control and we are addressing how we can bring in coding as a key area but have to balance that with having the right facilities. We need staff to be trained in this and schools to have the equipment.”

Lord Paul Scriven, who has a background in working in IT, says Sheffield needs a new identity.

“What is Sheffield’s role? What do we want Sheffield to be known for? I feel proud that Sheffield was known for steel and cutlery but what do we want to be known for in the future?

“In the past people followed jobs but now jobs follow people and if they have the skills and knowledge, employers will cluster around them.

“If we are going to be the city of digital literacy we need to invest in digital technology and make sure our young people are the best in the country.”